Betsy Talbot is a Spanish expat and romance writer taking risks step by step
March 20, 2017
Entrepreneur Snapshot
  • Founder: Betsy Talbot
  • Company: An Uncluttered Life, Life Lab, betsytalbot.com
  • From: New Mexico, USA
  • Nomadic for: 4 years
  • Currently Spain
  • Recommended reading: Do the Work by Steven Pressfield

Key takeaway: “There is no right or wrong, just left or right, A or B. Life is more like a flow chart, and each experience leads you to the next decision point, where you get to choose all over again.”

Read the full interview

Jess Ainlay: Betsy, thanks so much for agreeing to this interview! Let’s start with the basics. Where are you currently based?

Betsy Talbot: I’ve lived in Spain since 2014, when my husband Warren and I bought a house. For the last two years I’ve been primarily exploring my adopted country. Before that, I left the US in 2010 and traveled exclusively for 4 years, living out of a backpack.

Jess Ainlay: Would you consider yourself an expat? A nomad?

Betsy Talbot: I’m a nomadic expat with immigrant tendencies. Living in Spain means fairly easy access to the whole world, and a cozy home to return to. It has been the best of all worlds…until I connect with another place with as much love as I have for Spain. I don’t foresee it happening, but I like to keep my options open.

Jess Ainlay: Would you consider yourself an expat? A nomad?

Betsy Talbot: I’m a nomadic expat with immigrant tendencies. Living in Spain means fairly easy access to the whole world, and a cozy home to return to. It has been the best of all worlds…until I connect with another place with as much love as I have for Spain. I don’t foresee it happening, but I like to keep my options open.

Jess Ainlay: What sparked your desire to go traveling?

Betsy Talbot: I didn’t take my first flight until I was 25 years old. I didn’t have a passport until I was 30. My first extended time abroad, other than brief vacations, was when I left for South America at the age of 40 with just a backpack and my man.

My desire sparked in a conservative childhood that didn’t fit my curious mind, and the slow burn continued to build when I discovered the world of books and the local library (this was pre-internet, of course). It wasn’t until I decided to get a divorce from my first husband and leave my small town at the age of 30 that I felt able to start traveling and exploring the world. At that point, my goal was to continue seeing it bit by bit until my retirement, when I’d be able to explore it full time.

Then my 35-year-old brother had a heart attack. The next year, my good friend—also 35—had a brain aneurysm.

Those two events hit home, and I was paying attention. Why wait to travel if there was a chance I wouldn’t make it? That happened when I was 37, and my husband Warren and I decided to fast-forward our dream of traveling the world. We stopped thinking we’d live forever and starting living in the now.

We spent two years saving and downsizing, quit our jobs, and took off for South America just shy of my 40th birthday. We’ve never looked back.

Jess Ainlay: I love that story, and I think it’s so important to keep telling it over and over to people who might think they missed their chance to go abroad when they were younger. When you left to travel at 40, how did that first time change your perception of the world?

Betsy Talbot: In the past we’d only traveled to what I’d call “safe” destinations that didn’t really challenge any of our existing assumptions about the world. When we left for South America, we stayed in someone’s house at the top of a mountain outside a small village. We couldn’t drink the tap water. Women still did laundry by hand. To say it was a shock to the system was an understatement.

The next few months were eye-opening, not only in how different the world was than what we knew, but also how much it was the same. People want security, jobs, and education. They want a future for their kids. They want to laugh and have a good time. It’s only on the surface that we see the differences.

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Jess Ainlay: What were the biggest challenges you had to overcome at the start of being nomadic?

Betsy Talbot: Those first months of travel were challenging for us, as we had to navigate a new way of being together 24/7, and become full partners in fulfilling our new “job” as travelers. We had to learn to make quick decisions in unfamiliar territory dozens of times a day. Nothing was ever the same, and it was a constant stream of taking in new information and deciding how to move forward with it. I wouldn’t change a thing because of all it has done for our life, relationship and work, but back then it just seemed like taking the full brunt of a fire hose.

Jess Ainlay: Over those four years, what countries made the most impact on you, your thinking, and your habits?

Betsy Talbot: The most impactful, I’d say, was our time in China. We spent 3 months in this country, and this is where I got an up-close look at what the world looks like when the environment is trashed, and there is no oversight for public health. Once the damage is done, there is no recovery. Kids can’t play outside, old people can’t walk, and you can’t even go for a jog or drink the water. Progress is not progress if it diminishes the basic needs of people.

The second was Russia. I was born in 1970, so the Cold War was in full swing during my childhood. Visiting Russia taught me that nothing is permanent. Borders and politics and alliances can and do change, and knowing this in advance means I don’t tie myself to a worldview that can’t be open to change.

The third was Scotland. This is where we accomplished our first multi-day hike, The West Highland Way.We came to hiking and fitness at the relatively late age of 40, and if it weren’t for the gorgeous outdoor spaces in Scotland and the ability to “wild camp”, I don’t know if we would have ever taken up the longer walks.

Long-distance walking has become a metaphor for my life, and every time I face a rickety bridge, reach the summit, climb over boulders, or wade a rushing stream, it reinforces the idea that I have to keep moving, step by step, to get where I want to go in life. Scotland was the start of that for me.

Jess Ainlay: How long do you think you have to either travel or live abroad to really feel that impact?

Betsy Talbot: I don’t actually think you have to go that far for travel to have an impact in your life. In fact, you can live as a traveler every single day no matter where you are by practicing curiosity, kindness, and acceptance. Eat different foods, go to cultural festivals, listen to world music, watch foreign movies.

Traveling or living abroad alone doesn’t make the difference. Being curious and adventurous makes an impact no matter where you are.

Jess Ainlay: When you mention talking to people about this, are you referring to your clients? Let’s explore this as it relates to your business. Are you teaching people to travel the world like you did?

Betsy Talbot: Our former company, An Uncluttered Life, grew out of our initial website called Married with Luggage. Because we were a bit older than the usual long-term traveler, but younger than the retirees, we attracted a lot of midlife adventurers and people looking for a change in the second part of their lives.

These people didn’t necessarily want to live out of backpacks and travel like we did, but they did want to know how to make a big change, how to do it with a partner, and how to navigate a brand-new life that went against the grain of what they used to do.

That’s how An Uncluttered Life was born.

Jess Ainlay: What was the mission behind An Uncluttered Life?

Betsy Talbot: So many people want to make sweeping changes in their lives, but they have no idea where to start or how to do it. Rather than living a plan B life, our goal is to make achieving a Plan A life a simple, ongoing process of learning and action. You create the change you want without a lot of stress, confusion, or overwhelm. Most importantly, you actually make progress instead of just thinking about it.

Jess Ainlay: What are some of your most important philosophies that you teach that you also live by?

Betsy Talbot: First, I live by the concept that comparison is the thief of joy. Don’t compare yourself to others or you’ll always be chasing other people’s dreams.

Next, there is no right or wrong, just left or right, A or B. Life is more like a flow chart, and each experience leads you to the next decision point, where you get to choose all over again

When you take away the fear of making the wrong decision, you’ll never feel like you have. And there is great freedom and potential for accomplishment in allowing yourself to make mistakes. Every experience in a life is worthwhile if you learn to mine it for the lessons and opportunities is brings.

“Traveling or living abroad alone doesn’t make the difference. Being curious and adventurous makes an impact no matter where you are.”

Jess Ainlay: Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

Betsy Talbot:I’m not a born entrepreneur, but I am a curious person, and I like to see where things lead. There is no other way to experience that on a regular basis that I know of except entrepreneurship and travel. I’ve started a few small companies on my own, but always with the goal of supporting myself and my husband. I like working with subcontractors, but at this stage of my life, I’m not interested in having a big business with employees and explosive growth. It’s all about lifestyle for me now.

Jess Ainlay: What has been your biggest failure to date?

Betsy Talbot:Not quitting Married with Luggage in time. We spent at least a year too long on this website and podcast as it flat-lined. You can’t keep a business going just because you like it. If it isn’t profitable and you need to make money, holding on for sentimental value (or fear of looking bad or trying something new) will keep you from finding the right niche. We’ve learned to fail faster so we can get on to what works better.

Jess Ainlay: What is your biggest success?

Betsy Talbot:The first product we ever sold, back in 2011. Even though that product is long gone and we’ve moved on to bigger and better things, I still consider it my biggest success because it taught me how to ship. You have to be able to sell, whether it’s a service or content or a product, or you won’t have a business. Period. Learning that lesson and pushing through the fear gave me the confidence to do everything else

Jess Ainlay: What are your plans for the future?

Betsy Talbot:We’re firmly entrenched in Spain for now, but we are planning another big trip next year, probably to Australia and New Zealand. The adventure continues!

Jess Ainlay: And for you, professionally?

Betsy Talbot:We have since shut down An Uncluttered Life, and I am focusing on my new life as a romance novelist and living happily ever after in Spain (for now).

Jess Ainlay: Betsy, thanks so much for this interview.

Follow @betsytalbot on Twitter.

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